Film: Synchronic

Elements of Synchronic (2019) are scientifically hand-wavey, but once you commit to the premise, it’s a thought-provoking time-travel drama with interesting themes and immersive techniques. It’s about a pair of New Orleans emergency medical technicians whose nightly rounds present them with a series of a peculiar accident scenes. They’re a troubled pair; single Steve (Anthony Mackie) numbs his loneliness with alcohol binges and one-night stands, while married Dennis (Jamie Dornan) constantly grates against the responsibilities and problems of marriage to a wife, Tara (Katie Aselton), who’s probably too good for him. Steve gradually puts together that the mysterious deaths and injuries they’ve encountered are connected to a dangerous designer drug called Synchronic, which enables the user to step outside the linearity of time, casting them temporarily backwards in history—sometimes into perilous circumstances. When Dennis’s daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) falls prey to this drug’s effects, Steve, who is coping with devastating personal news, launches a last-ditch quest to rescue his best friend’s daughter from the past by experimenting with a confiscated stash of Synchronic pills.

Nonlinear time seems to be a common theme in SF cinema lately, and it’s easy to see why filmmakers are drawn to it. Film itself is uniquely suited to nonlinear storytelling, and the premise is ripe for eye-popping visual flair. Tenet is a high-profile recent example, but is more interested in mechanics and flash than character or theme. Synchronic is a simpler, quieter film, but also more satisfying. Oh, the logistics of its time-travel drug aren’t convincing, but the script’s handling of the idea is clear and internally consistent, even as it deploys the puzzling non-sequential scene structure required of this kind of film, keeping the viewer unsettled. In so doing, the film makes subtle, quiet points about historical nostalgia, but more importantly delivers relatable characters whose relationship matters to the plot. Steve and Dennis are believable, flawed people whose lives are integral to and changed by the events, and Mackie and Dornan do a fine job with the partner dynamic. The EMT milieu both informs their connection and sensibly links them with the central mystery, which plays out to a satisfying finale. It’s not a home run for me, but it’s a worthy, thoughtful SF film.

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